Q. What is National Adoption Day?
A. National Adoption Day is a day when many adoptions of children in foster care are finalized, and families who adopt are celebrated. Over 30,000 children have been officially adopted on National Adoption Day since the first one was held in 2000. That year, there were nine adoption events held in the U.S. Last year, there were over 300 events with every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all participating.
Q. Are there any federal changes on the horizon that could affect adoption?
A. Yes. Before 2001, federal tax assistance for adoption included a tax credit and an income tax exclusion of up to $5,000 per adoption ($6,000 per adoption of a special needs child). The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 included language that I authored to increase the qualified expenses for the federal tax assistance for adoption tax credit from $5,000 to $10,000. It has been indexed for inflation and is slightly over $13,000 for the year 2010, but it will sunset at the end of 2011.
If this sunset is not postponed, the adoption credit will, at the beginning of 2012, go back to pre-2001 level of $5,000. Also, right now the credit is refundable that is, not only can it offset any federal income tax the taxpayer would otherwise owe, but can actually result in the government paying the adopting parent. If the credit is allowed to sunset at the end of 2011, it will no longer be refundable.
Q. What else have you done to promote adoption or help foster youth?
A. I am the founder and co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. In 1997, I worked to advance the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Since its enactment many states have doubled their adoptions from foster care.
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 included funding I championed that provides grants to train judges, attorneys and legal personnel in child welfare cases, as well as grants to strengthen and improve collaboration between the courts and child welfare agencies. I worked to protect federal funding for Social Services Block Grants that help fund child welfare services.
In 2006, the Finance Committee held the first hearings on child welfare in over a decade. The hearings were part of an effort that led to passage of the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006, which I developed as Finance Committee Chairman and shepherded through Congress. The legislation improved programs aimed at helping troubled families and increased case worker visits for children in foster care.
I introduced the bill that became the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing adoptions Act of 2008. Families and foster youth from all over Iowa came to Washington to help build support for this bill. It was the most significant child welfare bill to be enacted in over a decade. In addition to providing more federal incentives for states to move children from foster care to adoptive homes, it made it easier for children to be adopted by relatives, and to stay in their home communities. It made all children with special needs eligible for federal adoption assistance. The law also established new opportunities for youth who age out of the foster care system at 18 by helping them pursue education or vocational training.
In November 2009, I was honored to receive the "Legislator of the Year" award from Voice for Adoption, a national organization dedicated to "speaking out for our nation's waiting children."
Q. What is the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth?
A. The bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, which I chair with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, is a way for current and former foster youth to have their voices heard. The work we do in the caucus makes senators more aware of the issues facing foster youth, helps generate ideas for preventing negative outcomes, and helps create opportunities for success for the 500,000 children currently in the foster care system and the more than 200,000 young people who have aged out of the system.
The caucus provides the senators with briefings from think-tank experts, foster-care coalitions, advocates and other groups close to foster youth. The caucus is a clearing house for up-to-date research and policy initiatives in the area of child welfare.